It’s always troubling when we encounter those pesky callers from lands unknown, either sending dodgy e-mails rife with spelling errors gushing about news of winning a Nigerian sweepstakes, or phoning us with urgent-sounding threats that the I.R.S. will be coming for us shortly, lest we immediately go to Western Union and wire some funds overseas. Or, send an Amazon gift card. Because either are acceptable means of satisfying a debt with the Internal Revenue Service, of course. Who would have known?
It’s far more troubling when the target of a scam is a U.S. Armed Forces Veteran, particularly those who served dutifully and are aged or infirm. In fact, according to an indictment handed down by the United States District Court, Western District of Texas San Antonio Division, that’s precisely what a bunch of degenerates were doing. According to the charges, Robert Wayne Boling, JR., Frederick Brown , Trorice Crawford, Allan Albert Kerr, and Jongmin Seok did just that, from 2014 until 2019. The fourteen count indictment was unsealed yesterday in Texas, charging the defendants, living in both the United States and the Philippines, of stealing personally identifying information (PII) of thousands of members of the US military to help themselves to what amounted to millions of dollars, by fraudulently accessing DOD and VA (Veterans Administration) web sites.
Brown and Crawford are both U.S. citizens, and were arrested earlier this week. The others were arrested in the Philippines, where their operation was based, though none of the three are actually citizens of that country. Attorney General Barr summed it up thusly, “The crimes charged today are reprehensible and will not be tolerated by the Department of Justice. These defendants are alleged to have illegally defrauded some of America’s most honorable citizens, our elderly and disabled veterans and service-members…” What could be more disgusting and compassionless? Preying on the elderly and sick is always despicable, but when those individuals gave their time, their strength, and sometimes their health, to keep their country going, it’s especially heinous. Especially, as is the case, here, when those doing the scamming are themselves Americans. Shame on them.
Attorney General Barr continued, “…Through today’s action, the Department is honoring our pledge to target elder fraud schemes, especially those committed by foreign actors using sophisticated means, and to protect the veterans of our great country…Our veterans were willing to risk everything to protect this Nation from foreign threats. Now it’s our turn to seek justice for them.” No one of any political stripe can reasonably disagree with the Attorney General’s sincere words. While any Federal employee knows that dealing with PII is a sensitive matter, requiring the utmost of care and respect, defendant Brown decided to pilfer military service-persons’ names dates of birth,social security numbers, and Department of Defense ID numbers.
Brown knew full well that he had breached the trust of the Nation that had entrusted him with this sensitive information. He had been working as a civilian contractor on a military base at the time. Enriching himself, and his cronies, was more important to him than being a trustworthy government employee, and living up to his promise. Truly, what could be more disheartening? Of course, such a lost soul could have done far worse damage; imagine if he had been entrusted with secrets far more damaging to share than PII of service members, say information that could jeopardize national security?
If you’re thinking, “What a piece of garbage!” just know that we concur. Even more troublesome, the personally identifiable information was used to steal funds from former servicemen and women’s bank accounts. If by now, this doesn’t have your blood boiling, you’re probably in need of some honest self-reflection. The bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (EAPPA), (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/178) signed into law by President Trump, has enabled the Department of Justice to commence enforcement action in hundreds of civil and criminal cases that targeted senior citizens. A recent sweep netted over 250 defendants preying upon our Nation’s weakest and most vulnerable.
While fraud is never a good thing, at least when a Nigerian scam artist phones, you have the opportunity to just hang up and laugh. In this instance, U.S. Veterans were not afforded even the slightest means of protecting themselves; the trust shared with a contractor was breached, with prejudice. Of course, any scam targeting seniors, either U.S. citizens, or citizens of any other nation on Earth, is the most deplorable of acts.
Thankfully, many private groups and nonprofits have ways of helping protect seniors from the more common forms of fraud. The FBI’s web portal is one place for elders, or those caring for our elders, to begin learning what exactly can be done. The NCOA, or National Council on Aging website also provides a list of eight tips that can help seniors protect themselves from money scams.
While this information is certainly priceless, in the case brought before the Federal Court, none of this would have been helpful, as the stolen personal information allowed the scammers to bypass the elders and their caregivers, allowing the thieves to hone in precisely on their targets, without arousing suspicion until it was too late. Thankfully, something has been done, and this sort of information theft is fairly uncommon, though scamming seniors of their hard-earned saving is certainly not.